Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Review: Homodeus

This book is packed full of so many ideas. If you’re interested in the future of our planet, buy this book! I read this while writing my latest novel, Sentient, a science fiction story set in the year 2120. Futurism fascinates me. That’s why I write science fiction. Harare’s book ignites with potential futures we may face, some exhilarating, some terrifying. If you were like me and missed the massive hype that surrounded this book a few years ago, pick it up. It is illuminating, challenging and always interesting.

Yuval Noah Harare’s Homodeus creatively takes on the challenge all futurists face. What will our world be like in the future? Harare clearly states the difficulty of prediction, given the rapid pace that technology is moving, but he bravely tackles the task. A major premise is that human nature will be transformed by Google-like information networks so powerful, human intelligence will be uncoupled from consciousness. Even today, vast data processing networks are beginning to know our feelings better than we know ourselves. This can only accelerate as technology continues to rapidly advance. He suggests evidence that the human capacity to re-shape their environment is all around. War, famine and disease have fallen into retreat, as a result of our ability to effectively communicate in networks. 

As this capability grows exponentially through processes such as machine learning, the fundamental of what it means to be human will be challenged. Harare postulates that homosapiens could be coming to the end of their remarkable evolutionary reign. Modern human belief systems such as liberalism and democracy will give way to a new frontier where lifespans are extended by the power of technology. A new belief will evolve where early adopters willingly marry their personal identity to machines. Harare warns that ultimately, a small priestly caste of seers could gain access to the ultimate source of knowledge, leading to a new belief system -  dataism. 

This brave new world will pose new threats and challenges to the human race. For example, what will humans do in a world where they increasingly become irrelevant? Harare likens it to the same situation that animals have faced in a human dominated world. Will superior, highly intelligent robots treat us with similar violent indifference?

Harare’s work always fascinates and it certainly influenced how I ‘world built’ my novel, Sentient, set a hundred years into the future. The Earth in 2120 has undergone rapid transformation as governments grapple with the effects of climate change. The population has peaked at ten billion, but it consists of an equal mix of humans and ‘post-humans’ (castes and biots). 

World governance had been handed to AI four decades earlier in order to avoid an ecological disaster. Rapid re-optimisation of resources lead to the development of ‘super cities’ around the globe. Where human population declined, the ‘caste’ (humans with major technological implants) population grew rapidly as they, together with biots (genetically engineered humans) become the new elites of a world increasingly uncoupling its human consciousness to machines. 

Super corporations hold power in a world where networks of data became the new currency. States and religion are now artifices of the past, giving way to ‘dataism’. Increasingly, power resides with the new technological elites, whereas humans are assigned to the restoration and revitalisation of the world’s natural environment. Human’s increasingly form ‘splinter groups’, defending the case for returning the Earth to pre-industrial natural levels. Castes oppose them, seeking the acceleration of technological change, unnatural selection to ‘cosmic man’ and the allocation of resources to the rapid advancement of inter-solar and intergalactic exploration and colonisation.